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Part of Western Governors University

April 18, 2022


What Classes Can You Expect to Take For Your Accounting Degree?

If you have a way with numbers and want to make a living out of it, a degree in accounting can put you on the path to a lucrative career in finance.

With a bachelor’s degree in accounting, you can get started in an entry-level accounting job and work your way up to more senior roles as you gain experience. On the other hand, if you want to become a certified public accountant (CPA), advance into a management position, and make more money, you’ll want to consider a master’s degree in accounting.  

There are important differences in the coursework of these degree programs, including their complexity and requirements. Knowing what classes to expect in each can help you make a more informed decision about your educational future. This guide will give you an overview of the courses covered in WGU’s bachelor’s and master’s in accounting degree program.

What Courses Are in a Bachelor’s in Accounting Degree Program?

A bachelor’s degree in accounting is the first step to a career in business or finance, including the path to becoming a CPA or other accounting professional. This program covers business fundamentals and important accounting concepts such as generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), spreadsheets, financial and managerial accounting, tax and audit rules, and more. The following accounting courses are key in preparing you for the job market. 

  • Financial Accounting focuses on ways that accounting principles are used in business operations. Students learn the basics of financial accounting, including how the accounting cycle is used to record business transactions under GAAP. You’ll also be introduced to the concepts of assets, liabilities, and equity. This course also presents bank reconciliation methods, balance sheets, and business ethics. Principles of Accounting is a prerequisite for this course.
  • Taxation I provides an overview of income taxes of both individuals and business entities in order to enhance awareness of the complexities and sources of tax law and to measure and analyze the effect of various tax options. The course will introduce taxation of sole proprietorships. Students will learn principles of individual taxation and how to develop effective personal tax strategies for individuals. Students will also be introduced to tax research of complex taxation issues. 
  • Cost and Managerial Accounting focuses on the concepts and procedures needed to identify, collect, and interpret accounting data for management control and decision-making. Topics covered include budgeting, cost-volume-profit analysis, job costing, process costing, activity-based costing, standard costing, and differential analysis. Prerequisites include Principles of Accounting and Financial Accounting. 
  • Business Law for Accountants is designed to provide the advanced accounting student an understanding of the legal environment and issues encountered in the profession. Topics include the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), contracts, securities regulation, Sarbanes-Oxley Act, legal entities, ethics, agency, and bankruptcy.
  • Intermediate Accounting I is the first of three in-depth financial accounting courses for accounting majors. It builds on topics covered in Principles of Accounting and Financial Accounting. This course focuses on financial accounting and accounting standards; the conceptual framework of GAAP; the income statement, the statement of cash flows, and the balance sheet; cash and receivables; and inventory valuation.
  • Intermediate Accounting II is the second of three in-depth financial accounting courses for accounting majors. The course focuses on acquisition and disposition of noncurrent assets; depreciation, impairments, and depletion; intangible assets; current liabilities and contingencies; long-term obligations; stockholders' equity; dilutive securities; and time value of money concepts. The prerequisite to this course is Intermediate Accounting I.
  • Accounting Information Systems (AIS) introduces you to the accountant’s role in management and financial reporting systems. Topics include transaction cycles and related information technology (IT) controls, data management, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and e-commerce systems, systems development and acquisition, documentation, and IT auditing. 
  • Intermediate Accounting III completes the intermediate accounting journey and provides a comprehensive look at investments, revenue recognition, accounting for income taxes, pension plans, and leases. It explores advanced topics, including accounting changes and error analysis, full disclosure requirements in financial reporting, and interpretation of the statement of cash flows.
  • Auditing will help you gain an understanding of the entire auditing process and different assurance services, such as the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct. You’ll learn how to assess audit risk, develop an audit strategy, and gain an understanding of the audit client. Audit evidence and a client’s system of internal control will be discussed in depth. You’ll be required to assess risk response by identifying and evaluating tests of controls and substantive procedures. In addition, you’ll evaluate risk response and use data analytics and audit sampling for substantive tests. The course concludes with the completion of the audit through subsequent events, engagement wrap-up and management representation, and reporting on the audit with an unqualified audit report or a modification of the audit report. 

What Courses Are in a Master’s in Accounting Degree Program?

In a master's program in accounting, you'll take advanced classes covering topics in managerial accounting, tax concepts, auditing, financial accounting, and more. These courses give you the foundation you need to feel ready for the CPA exam while exposing you to different specialties within the accounting field.Governmental and Nonprofit Accounting gives you the skills and knowledge required to practice accounting for governmental and nonprofit entities: analyzing and recording transactions, financial statement preparation in accordance with Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) standards, and communication. 

  • Fraud and Forensic Accounting provides a framework for detecting and preventing financial statement fraud. Topics include the profession’s focus and legislation of fraud; revenue- and inventory-related fraud; and liability, asset, and inadequate disclosure fraud. 
  • Advanced Managerial Accounting introduces the complexity and functionality of managerial accounting systems within an organization. It covers the topics of product costing (including activity-based costing), decision-making (including capital budgeting), profitability analysis, budgeting, performance evaluation, and reporting related to managerial decision-making. This course provides the opportunity for a detailed study of how managerial accounting information supports the operational and strategic needs of an organization and how managers use accounting information for decision-making, planning, and controlling activities within organizations. 
  • Advanced Financial Accounting builds upon your accounting knowledge by focusing on advanced financial accounting topics such as consolidations, partnership accounting, and international accounting.
  • Advanced Tax Concepts is designed to enhance awareness of the complexities and sources of tax law and to measure and analyze the effect of various tax options. This course provides an overview of income taxes on individuals, corporations, associations, and corporate distributions, while emphasizing the role of taxes in business decisions and business strategy. Also examined will be federal tax laws applicable to individuals and corporations (and shareholders), including tax research, tax compliance, and tax planning. 
  • Advanced Auditing is divided into two sections. 
    • The first half reviews the basic auditing process, including:
      • Planning the audit: identifying, assessing, and responding to the risk of material misstatement. 
      • Using specialized audit tools: attributes sampling, monetary unit sampling, and data analytic tools. 
      • Completing a quality audit.
      • Reporting on financial statement audits. 
    • The second part of the course dives into the application of auditing through:
      • Understanding how to audit an acquisition and payment cycle. 
      • Applying the knowledge gained through the acquisition and payment cycle to the revenue cycle in a performance assessment
  • Accounting Research and Critical Thinking gives you the skills and knowledge to research and add validity to accounting reports, resolution of issues, and procedural arguments: critical thinking, communication, research strategies, and database resources.

Should I Become a CPA?

Becoming a CPA takes experience and education, and a master's degree can help with both. A master’s degree isn’t a requirement to become a CPA, but earning a bachelor’s degree isn’t enough to qualify you to sit for the CPA exam. For instance, most states require you to complete 120 credit hours before you’re eligible to take the CPA exam, and at least 150 hours before you’re able to be licensed as a CPA. A master’s degree can provide those additional hours and valuable knowledge to meet the CPA educational requirement.  

All this to say, if you’re hoping for a successful, high-paying career in accounting, becoming a CPA is worth it. CPAs make almost double the average salary of accountants: $119,000 compared to $51,000, according to UWorld.

Even if you don’t go the CPA route, having a master’s degree in accounting can open the door to more opportunities and higher salaries. In fact, M.S. Accounting graduates report an average salary increase of $18,700 after completing their WGU degree.

Are You Ready to Take the Next Step?

If you're looking to get an accounting degree that’s flexible, affordable, and industry recognized, consider an online accounting degree program at WGU. The online bachelor's accounting program is ACBSP accredited, a designation that’s widely respected by employers.

Unlike traditional universities, WGU offers a competency-based education model. This means every course in our accounting programs focuses on a set of clearly defined competencies that you must prove you’ve learned—through tests, papers, projects, or other assessments. Once you prove mastery of the concepts, you move on to the next course. You’ll be rewarded for your knowledge and experience, not the number of credit hours on your transcript. 

Add to your existing knowledge and launch yourself forward with the help of an online accounting degree from WGU. Learn more and get started today.

Frequently Asked Questions

What subjects are needed for accounting?

Some subjects you can expect in an accounting degree include: 

  • Business law
  • Financial markets
  • Auditing
  • Taxation
  • Banking and investments
  • Corporate finance

What can you do with a bachelor’s degree in accounting?

With a bachelor’s degree, you may be most qualified for entry-level positions as a:  

  • Bookkeeper 
  • Accounts payable specialist 
  • Assistant payroll administrator 
  • Payroll accountant 

What can you do with a master’s degree in accounting?

There are many job possibilities for those who pursue a master's degree in accounting, both in public and private accounting. Some of those jobs include:

  • Tax accountant
  • Auditor
  • Finance manager
  • Banker
  • CFO
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